Startup Creates Component Cocktail
In an exclusive interview with Light Reading, Fadi Daou, Telephotonics' VP of business development, explained how the startup is developing all the building blocks to make integrated optical circuits with any functionality under the sun –- not just optical switches or tunable lasers, he says.
Telephotonics is bringing together three ways to control light –- thermo-optics (heat), magneto-optics (magnetism), and electro-optics (applied voltage) –- and using this to build optical circuits on a common platform. The basic idea is to use as many materials as possible, in order to play to the strengths of each.
"We're not just another glass AWG [arrayed waveguide grating] company –- there are too many of those," says Daou.
This thinking runs counter to that of most companies in the integrated optics space, which try to pick one material and stick with it. But while the keep-it-simple approach can yield manufacturing advantages, it also forces compromises.
Daou "got the entrepreneurial bug" after reading research papers by Louay Eldada –- former head of the telecom photonics group at Allied Signal Inc. (acquired by Corning Inc. [NYSE: GLW] in 1999) and now Telephotonics' CTO -- comparing all the different types of materials available to integrated optics. "Louay told me that if you want to succeed [in integrated optics], then you need to have the world's best engineers in all of these fields and bring them together under one roof," Daou says.
He took this piece of advice to heart. For instance, he says that he visited all the firms with intellectual property in magneto-optics, in order to license the technologies he would need. Telephotonics claims to have hired all the magneto-optic experts in the world.
The use of magneto-optics is key. Magneto-optics provides the only way to make components with asymmetric properties, such as circulators and isolators (one-way light valves). These work by rotating the polarization of light. But the light always rotates in the same manner (e.g., clockwise) whether it is going from left to right or right to left through the component.
Telephotonics plans to develop a reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexer built from optical isolators on either side of a grating. Such a device "could be remotely provisioned without affecting the bit error rate on any of the other channels," claims Daou. The startup also plans to make simpler devices such as muxes and switches, as well as active devices like tunable lasers.
As noted, Telephotonics won't rely exclusively on one material or technology. For planar waveguides –- the platform on which other components sit –- it plans to use polymers. Daou didn't say this in so many words, but Light Reading worked it out. Eldada is a leading expert on optical polymers. While at Allied Signal, his team developed the only polymer components that meet Telcordia telecom requirements.
Having been sussed, Daou decided to come clean. Polymer processing is much simpler than competing technologies, such as flame hydrolysis of silica-on-silicon (used by Kymata Ltd., among others), he says. "It takes us 30 minutes to process and develop a waveguide, and a couple of hours to do an entire wafer," he adds. As a result, there's a tremendous potential for price reduction.
However, a potential drawback to trying to be all things to everybody is that customers may resent losing the flexibility to source best-of-breed components from different suppliers. "It's like a Catholic marriage," admits Daou. "We want them to design subsystems based around our platform, so it requires a significant commitment."
Further information about the Telephotonics integration platform –- which it dubs OASIC or optical ASIC -- will be revealed at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference (OFC) in March. The startup is also expecting to unveil its first product at the conference, about 3 to 4 months before production comes on line.
-- Pauline Rigby, senior editor, Light Reading, http://www.lightreading.com